College launches business case for protecting adult social work

The College of Social Work is attempting to quantify the cost benefits of adult social work interventions, amid growing concern from the workforce about the impact of job cuts on services.

The College of Social Work today launched a business case for maintaining current levels of adult social work provision in local authorities, urging the profession to take responsibility for proving that further job cuts would be a false economy.

The business case rejects the Audit Commission’s recent recommendation that councils replace social workers with non-professionally qualified staff in assessments and reviews, on the grounds this could save money without hurting quality.

However, the College’s report argues that the social return on investment that can come from good social work is often neglected in standard cost-benefit analyses.

“The Audit Commission goes too far in suggesting that social workers should be shuffled off to deal with only complex cases,” the College said in its discussion paper, The Business Case for Social Work with Adults.

“Removing qualified staff from the payroll where simpler assessments are concerned may lead to short-term savings, but it may also result in services of impaired quality in which critical elements of risk, vulnerability and need are missed, that a qualified social worker would have recognised and acted upon.

“If the pendulum swings too far in favour of ‘quick fixes’ through ill-considered reductions in staff costs, local authorities run the risk of costly reparative interventions, court proceedings and incidents requiring serious case reviews.”

Recent research by Community Care found the average number of adult social work posts per council across the UK has fallen from 112 in 2010 to 93 in 2012. The College said public sector job losses were expected to continue up to 2017 under current austerity measures.

“The social work profession must make a clear business case for itself to demonstrate to employers that sacrificing social work posts is a false economy, which will ultimately increase costs rather than reduce them,” it said.

The launch of the business case follows publication of results from the College’s joint survey with Age UK, which found 85% of adult social workers have experienced a reduction in frontline services for older people over the last year.

Of the 200 adult social workers surveyed, half rated their career prospects as “poor” and only 13% rated them as “good”.

“Good social work improves outcomes for people and is cost effective,” said Bernard Walker, the College’s transitional faculty chair for adults. “Now social workers have to be able to demonstrate that they provide value for money.”

The College has selected three case studies to highlight the potential return on investment of high-quality social work:

  • The London Borough of Sutton recently found that appointing a community development social worker to work with 30 long-term service users in one of its most deprived communities resulted in a 15% reduction in statutory care packages.
  • St Helens Council found that investing in five additional social workers for the integrated hospital discharge team substantially reduced the numbers of medically fit patients in acute beds. There was also a 17% reduction in delayed discharges – and outcomes for services users were improved.
  • Central Bedfordshire’s social work practice pilot has been experimenting with network meetings, which social workers run with services users and their carers and families to discuss safeguarding concerns. It is thought supporting people to find their own solutions will result in a reduction in costs to the local authority.

The College said it would now assemble more evidence demonstrating the cost benefits of social work interventions.

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